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How technology affects your child’s brain

 We are hearing more and more that people (mostly those without children) are saying, “I will not be giving my child an iPad or a phone until they’re at least in high school like I was”. Unfortunately, this goal is almost unattainable, and looks to be exponentially harder to attain as technology advances. It appears that people are seeing the effects that technology and screen time have on our children. But like anything in our lives, we need to find the ‘sweet spot’ where screen time is effective and when it becomes detrimental to our child’s developing brain. 

Almost everything we do these days requires a piece of technology and for parents, technology can be used as an effective tool in keeping children entertained during shopping trips, quiet in a wait room, and pre-occupied for a momentary break from being a parent (we all know how rare these moments are). 

 So, lets delve into what technology is doing to a child’s brain, what a healthy level of technology looks like, at what age technology should be employed, and what forms of technology are beneficial for your child’s brain. 

Technologies effects on the brain 

Technology use can have a cumulative impact on a developing brain, particularly in regards to attention, multi-tasking and cognitive load (and its subsequent effect on learning).  

Educators and practitioners are observing a marked increase in psychological concerns related to ADHD, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorders, anxiety and depression. Research has suggested that the increase in the above presentations may be attributed to the overuse of technology.  

The constant use of technology impacts the wiring and pruning of neurons and neuroplasticity. Neurons are the cells in the brain that are responsible for receiving sensory information and relaying signals to other parts of the brain and the body. Neuroplasticity is the way in which our brain can change and adapt as the result of new learnings and experiences. It is an ongoing process that happens throughout life but it is particularly important during childhood and adolescents. 

Excessive use of technology often means an individual is often distracted from what is happening around them. They are frequently multitasking, because they are supposed to be doing something else, and this adds to their cognitive load. A high cognitive load may reduce an individual’s capacity to take in new information and learn from their experiences. Hence, the excessive use of technology, can lead to difficulties in constructing knowledge, poor focus and attention, and reduced social skills development. All of which can have a negative impact on mental well-being. Physical health may also be impacted due to the low levels of physical activity involved in using technology. 

Impact on mental well-being 

One of the primary concerns related to excessive screen time is its impact on a child’s social, emotional and languagedevelopment. Children who spend too much time in front of screens are often less capable of reading social cues, engaging in face-to-face interactions, and forming meaningful relationships with others. Further, excessive screen time is also associated with emotional regulation difficulties. Children may struggle with empathy, as they have reduced opportunities to learn how to read and respond to the emotions of others.  

The reason these issues may arise is that when a child is communicating with others online, they are not seeing facial expressions and no words are being spoken. Therefore, they are not receiving the associated social cues and interactions. The research also suggests that parents’ excessive screen use can have a negative impact on a child’s development. As parents are children’s biggest role models, children learn by watching and imitating their parents’ actions. Therefore, it is important that parents are mindful of their screen time and how they are engaging with their child.  

In addition, children who spend a lot of time in front of screens may struggle with attention and focus. The constant stimulation from screens can make it difficult for children to concentrate on extended tasks and retain information.  


Another aspect of screen use is bullying which can often have a digital source. In Australia, the e-safety office and an e-safety commissioner ensure that the type of engagement and communication people experience online is positive and safe. They address issues like bullying and predatory use, imaged-based abuse, which are common online experiences for young people.  

Impact on physical health 

Another concern related to excessive screen time is the detriment it can have on a child’s physical health. Children who spend a lot of time in front of screens are at a higher risk of obesity, as they are more likely to be sedentary instead of engaging in physical activity.  

Furthermore,extended periods of frequent screen use can be associated with short sightedness. To combat this, it is recommended to look at something twenty meters away, every twenty minutes to practise far vision.  

Additionally, the blue light emitted from screens can disrupt the body’s natural sleep rhythms, leading to sleep disorders such as insomnia. More specifically, the blue light suppresses melatonin, which is a hormone that induces sleep. So, if melatonin isn’t released in a natural way, we don’t feel as sleepy.  

Is there a healthy level of technology use? 

It may be at this point that you’re thinking any amount of technology is too much. Rest assured that, technology in moderation, can be beneficial to a developing brain.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the current daily average for children’s screen time ranges from 6 hours (8-10 years old) to 7.5 hours (15-18 years old). I think it goes without saying that these numbers are far higher than what would be recommended for a developing brain.

The recommended time limits (outlined by the CDC) is zero hours before the age of 2, no more than 1 hour a day for children aged 2 to 5 and no more than 2 hours per day (except for homework) for children aged 5 to 17.

There are a range of ways parents can put in place strategies to help moderate the amount of technology. Some healthy habits include a screen-free bedroom rule to allow for better sleep hygiene or help fill the void where screen time would normally be with a more active or social activity. If you want to cut back your child’s technology use, be sure to replace it with something positive, such as sports or face-to-face games.    

Are there forms of technology that will benefit my child’s brain? 

It is difficult to think of healthy technology, considering the adverse effects it has on children. However, there are some types of technology and online digital apps that potentially help to increase brain flexibility. You might like to consider: 

Cognitive training games which increase global cognition, memory, attention and learning abilities. There are also a number of math and language learning apps which might be helpful.

N-back task training games which work on memory and fluid intelligence. 

Monitoring apps that help kids learn about heart rate and breathing patterns and apps dedicated to measuring sleep quality. 

Psychotherapy apps help kids to record mood states, identify unhelpful thinking patterns and learn strategies to help them manage stress.  

How to set limits on screen use for children 

Schedule screen time. One way to limit screen time is to set a schedule for when screens can and can’t be used. For instance, children are allowed to watch TV for 30 minutes after school but not allowed to have screen time during meals or other family activities.  

No screen time 1 hour before bedtime and remove screens from the bedroom. All screens should be turned off 1 hour before bedtime to avoid sleep difficulties. The research also suggests removing all screens from the bedroom after bedtime as even charging the phone on the bedside table can lead to broken sleep. Further, children and adolescents can be drawn into communication with their peers or gaming during the night.   

Adults should be the role models for their children. Parents and caregivers should set a good example by reducing their own screen time and encouraging children to engage in other activities.  

Provide options for alternative activities. It is important to ensure that children are offered engaging activities that are not screen-based including playing outside, doing crafts, playing board games, and reading books. These activities give children the opportunity to develop social and emotional skills, but they also provide a break from the stimulation of screens.  


Limiting children’s screen time is vital to their overall well-being. Excessive screen time can negatively impact children’s social and emotional development, attention and focus, and physical health. Parents and caregivers can play an important role in reducing screen time by setting a schedule, setting a good example, and providing children with options for non-screen-based activities. By following these steps, we can help children to grow up healthy and well-adjusted. 

Please call us on (07) 3857 0074 to book an appointment with one of our clinicians. Or send us an Appointment Request via this website and we’ll contact you as soon as possible to book a suitable time for you.

Author: Barbora Slukova, Provisional Psychologist and Curtis Cavanagh, Provisional Psychologist